Seth Brodsky appointed Director of Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry

Associate Professor Seth Brodsky sitting in front of a brick wall and window
September 6, 2019

University of Chicago Provost Daniel Diermeier, Executive Vice President David Fithian, and Senior Advisor to the Provost for Arts David Levin announced today that Seth Brodsky, Associate Professor of Music and the Humanities, has been appointed Director of the Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry. Brodsky has served as Interim Director of the Gray Center since July 2018 and succeeds Jacqueline Stewart as its third Director. 

Brodsky joined the University in 2011, arriving at UChicago from Yale. His research encompasses 20th- and 21st-century music, modernisms, music and philosophy, critical theory, psychoanalysis, and voice. He is the author of From 1989, or European Music and the Modernist Unconscious, published by the University of California Press, which was awarded the Lewis Lockwood Award by the American Musicological Society in 2018.

“In the verve of his scholarship, the inventiveness of his teaching, and the extraordinary range of his interests, Seth embodies the searching spirit of the Gray Center,” said Levin. “He is an ideal Director, since his curiosity is as boundless as his energy, and his penchant for experimentation is as vibrant as his intelligence. Under Jacqueline Stewart’s leadership, the Gray Center undertook a series of thrilling programmatic initiatives, while at the same time deepening and expanding its defining commitment to transformative collaborations between artists and scholars. I can’t wait to see where the Gray goes under Seth’s leadership—where he will take it, and where it will take him.”

Brodsky has served on the Gray Center Advisory Council since its inception eight years ago. To him, the Gray Center is characterized by a spirit of mutability and a passion for exploring the unknown.

“Probably my favorite aspect of the Gray Center is that I still can’t get to the bottom of what we do,” Brodsky said.

As Brodsky explained, the main directives of the Gray Center are elegant in their simplicity: at least one party from inside and one party from outside the University, at least one scholar and one artist, come together for a collaboration. The nature of collaboration between these fellows and the experimental work done, however, are not so neatly categorizable. 

“The work of our fellows remains oriented around a kind of not-knowing, around reminding each other how, as professional and practiced knowers, it is still possible to not-know,” Brodsky continued. “Collaboration becomes a way of propping open the back door of expertise and letting some of it escape. As easy as it sounds, it’s quite an alien practice. It touches a nerve.”

Under Brodsky’s direction, in partnership with Gray Center director of programs and fellowships Zachary Cahill and with the support of the Gray family as well as the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Gray Center will continue to support innovative experimental collaborations between artists and scholars at UChicago, while increasing public awareness of its work through its journal Portable Gray, published by the University of Chicago Press; the SIDEBAR program series, which provides the public a window into the Gray Center process; Gray Sound, a new performance series focusing on experimental music and sound; and new partnerships with the Arts, Science + Culture program and the forthcoming UChicago Arts Experimental Performance Initiative.

“I am thrilled to continue working with Seth in his new capacity as Director,” said Cahill, who also serves as Portable Gray’s Editor-in-Chief. “He possesses an unflagging curiosity for unexpected encounters between minds and a profound commitment to art’s power as a revelator for utopian wishes, practical relationality, and disquieting critique.”

There’s already a robust programming schedule in place for the 2019-2020 academic year, including collaborations between historian and theorist W.J.T. Mitchell, art historian Hannah B Higgins, and artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan; as well as anthropologist Stephan Palmié and artist Miralda. The Gray Center will also welcome a new cohort of fellows this year: artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, MacArthur curator at the Smart Museum Abigail Winograd, and executive director of the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights Susan Gzesh. November 2019 will see the release of the Gray Center’s third volume of Portable Gray, with a special project for the cover by art historian Romi Crawford and artist and UChicago professor Theaster Gates. Brodsky is particularly looking forward to the launch of a new experimental music series, Gray Sound.

“We start with a bang,” said Brodsky. “Austrian composer Peter Ablinger will be here for a week in January, and we’ll be presenting a new installation work of his for computer-controlled piano called MUSIC’S OVER. And in the spring we’ll feature a concert and SIDEBAR with the brilliant DJ Jlin, whose music simply sounds like nothing else.”

In addition to the Mellon Residential Fellowships for Arts Practice and Scholarship, the Gray Center’s programs include international conferences, incubator initiatives, salons, and institutional collaborations across divisions, departments, and other programs at UChicago. To learn more about the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry, visit graycenter.uchicago.edu.